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What's gone right -- and wrong -- for Astros?

@brianmctaggart
August 3, 2020

HOUSTON -- The Astros have played 15 percent of their 2020 regular-season schedule after taking two of three games from the Angels over the weekend to improve to 5-4. Houston probably should have swept its first road series of the season, but the club was relieved to leave Anaheim with

HOUSTON -- The Astros have played 15 percent of their 2020 regular-season schedule after taking two of three games from the Angels over the weekend to improve to 5-4. Houston probably should have swept its first road series of the season, but the club was relieved to leave Anaheim with a tough series win.

Considering the amount of injuries the club has endured the first week and a half of the season, and the struggles of some of their key offensive players, the Astros are fortunate to be 5-4 and tied for first place with the Athletics in the American League West.

Here’s a closer look at what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong for Houston:

What’s gone right?

Young pitchers have stepped up
Nine rookie pitchers have appeared in a game through the first nine contests of the season, with seven of those -- Blake Taylor, Cristian Javier, Brandon Bielak, Andre Scrubb, Enoli Paredes, Nivaldo Rodriguez and Brandon Bailey -- making their big league debuts. The other two rookies are Cy Sneed and Bryan Abreu, who made their debuts last year. Those nine pitchers have thrown a combined 38 1/3 innings and allowed just four earned runs (0.94 ERA). Taylor has thrown 7 2/3 scoreless innings. The Astros are going to have to continue to rely on the youngsters to come up big as the season progresses.

Astros are scoring runs in bunches
Believe it or not, the Astros were averaging 5.8 runs per game entering Monday, which was the second-most in the Major Leagues. What’s more, they’re fourth in the AL with a .759 OPS. Still, there’s a feeling the club is far from hitting its stride offensively. Two of Houston's core players -- George Springer and Jose Altuve -- are hitting under .200 and another -- Alex Bregman -- is having another slow start (.754 OPS), while slugger Yordan Alvarez is on the injured list. The Astros have also hit only nine home runs (one per game), which is well below their pace of a year ago when they hit a club-record 288 homers, averaging 1.8 per game. Even so, they’re still scoring lots of runs early.

The bat of outfielder Michael Brantley
With Springer, Altuve and Bregman slow out of the gate and Alvarez sidelined, Brantley has been a difficult out from his first at-bat of the season (a single). The 33-year-old veteran entered Monday with 14 hits, which ranked tied for third in the AL, and he was leading the AL with a .438 batting average (14-for-32). He’s hit safely in eight of nine games and has five multi-hit games, tied for the second-most in the big leagues. Brantley and fellow starting outfielders Springer and Josh Reddick are all free agents at the end of the season, and Brantley is showing no signs of slowing down. He’s one of the best pure hitters the game has seen in the last 10 years.

What’s gone wrong?

Injuries to the pitching staff
There’s no downplaying how decimated the Astros' pitching staff has been by injuries. Having already lost key arms Gerrit Cole, Collin McHugh, Will Harris and Wade Miley in free agency, the Astros restarted camp without veteran reliever Joe Smith, who was put on the restricted list. Swingmen Brad Peacock and Austin Pruitt began the year on the injured list, along with Jose Urquidy, who was expected to be a starter. The big blow came in the first weekend of the season when ace Justin Verlander went down with a right forearm strain. More recently, veteran reliever Chris Devenski was placed on the IL Saturday and closer Roberto Osuna on Sunday. As a result, the Astros have 11 rookie pitchers on their active roster.

Slow starts
Springer started the season 1-for-20 before driving in a run Saturday and hitting a huge go-ahead homer in the ninth inning. Still, he’s slashing .182/.333/.364 through nine games. Altuve had his third career 0-for-6 performance Sunday, dropping his average to .158 with one RBI. Bregman homered in the seventh inning Sunday and drove in the winning run with an 11th-inning single, but he is still slashing .211/.333/.421 through nine games. Kyle Tucker (.200/.250/.300) hasn’t swung the bat well except for a three-hit, four-RBI game on Friday.

Where’s Yordan Alvarez?
Alvarez, the 2019 AL Rookie of the Year, was placed on the IL on July 12 for undisclosed reasons and last week reported to the team’s alternate training site in Corpus Christi, Texas. Astros general manager James Click, appearing on the team’s pregame radio show Sunday, said he saw a video of Alvarez swinging the bat, but added there’s no timetable for his return. Alvarez hit .313 with 27 homers and 78 RBIs in 87 games last year and set an MLB rookie record with a 1.067 OPS.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.